By Aline Mahrud
WORTH A LOOK?: ***
WHEN?: Saturday 30 July, runs to 28 August 2022
This 3,500-seater venue has 3 times been host to our Best Gig monsta winner (in 2017, 2018 and 2019) but it just feels too big from our Circle seat to do justice to this film turned musical.
- Read on for reasons including how Hairspray star Lizzie Bea really grabbed our attention
This production was to star Whoopi Goldberg when it initially went on sale pre-pandemic but she’s since dropped out and instead we have 1 of our favourite musical theatre stars – Beverley Knight (The Drifters Girl, Garrick Theatre) – in the lead role.
She’s definitely the best thing about the production and each time she sings the sense of what could have been becomes evident because the atmosphere immediately electrifies.
Perhaps it’s just the crazy shift in tone in a story in which a nightclub singer witnesses her gangster boyfriend kill one of his accomplices, she is hidden by the police in a nunnery and transforms its choir that jarrs.
The original production opened at the London Palladium in 2009 starring Patina Miller and we’ve listened to the soundtrack which is different to the material presented here.
We’re disappointed that the song introducing the nuns (How I Got The Calling) has been removed because it served the job of welcoming us to the not inconsiderable ensemble.
Despite the addition of 2 new songs, Raise Your Voice, the track where Knight inspires the nuns to greater singing heights, remains the standout.
Special mention to Lizzie Bea (Hairspray, London Coliseum) and her song The Life I Never Led which really made us care for her character Sister Mary Robert and behind Knight’s Motown-infused numbers was best in show.
Jennifer Saunders is arguably this country’s most brilliant comedian and, although very funny here, we were so far away from the stage that we couldn’t see the facial contortions we imagine she was pulling that would have enhanced our enjoyment no end. As such it didn’t appear to be a patch on her bravura performance last year in Blithe Spirit at the Harold Pinter.
The post-pandemic casting change in this production resembled the disappearance of Megan Mullally from Anything Goes at the Barbican which actually had a reasonable outcome. We’re imagining that Knight is a better singer than Goldberg but lacks her comic touch.
Keala Settle (& Juliet, Shaftesbury Theatre) was a revelation on her West End debut but like Lesley Joseph feels rather under-used and lost here.
We’ve also loved some of Clive Rowe’s other roles (Blues In The Night, Kiln Theatre) and, although his part seems bigger than we were expecting, we felt his deserved a better chance to shine.
The gay rainbow flourish at the show’s close tugs at our heartstrings but we just felt this production might have worked much better in a far less cavernous venue even if it meant a less starry cast.
- Main pictures by Facebook courtesy Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith Tickets
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